Character Building Starts with a Relationship (part 2)

iStock_000004001127LoResPicking up from our last post, here are some more thoughts on how dads influence the character development of their children.

Getting off to a good start

In early parenthood, becoming a hands-on caregiver is sometimes more of a challenge for fathers. Mothers usually get a head start. They spend a lot of time with babies and learn how to become good caregivers fairly quickly. Dads can learn the same skills, but it usually takes them a little longer to become confident caregivers.

Sylvain really wants to be a hands-on dad. But it’s been harder than he expected. After the baby was born, his wife was on maternity leave so she was home all day with Chantal while he was working overtime to make extra money. When he got home, he was eager to see the baby, but he sometimes felt awkward. He wasn’t quite sure what to do.  “When will we be able to do things together?” he wonders.

Sylvain can do things with his baby right now by getting involved in the work of baby care: changing diapers, giving baths and taking Chantal for walks in the baby carrier.  It may take a little while for Sylvain’s partner to get used to his way of looking after the baby, which may be fairly different from hers. However, the more time he spends looking after Chantal, the more he will understand her and what she needs.  The more Sylvain understands his daughter, the better he’ll be at looking after her (and his partner will gain confidence in his fathering skills). He’ll feel good about that. It really is satisfying to be able to care for a child competently. So Sylvain will want to stay involved in Chantal’s care throughout her childhood. If he does that his understanding of her as a person and his skill as a caregiver will continue to grow.

Keeping the bond strong

There’s no big secret. A father/child bond is built through time spent together. When we think of fathers and children together, the first thing that comes to mind is play. Play is important, but, as fathers who get involved with their babies discover, looking after children is another important way to spend time with them. That means being with and helping your kids at mealtimes, bedtimes, baths, getting dressed and all the other times in a day when children need their parents.

Obviously, these ordinary hands-on child care tasks need to be done. It’s part of our job as fathers. But providing day-to-day care also helps fathers to know and understand children better.  Why do mothers usually understand their children well? Because they spend a lot of time caring for children. If you care for your kids, you will understand them too.

Set a good example

There is one more important way that your relationship with your child affects character development. That’s the example you set. If you want your child to learn to do what’s right and what needs to be done, he needs to see you doing it. If you want him to be responsible, he needs to see you being responsible. If you want him to respect others, treat him with respect and make sure he sees you treating others with respect.

Camillo can be hard to handle at times. Sometimes, when he does something seriously wrong, his Dad gives him a little swat on the bum – not too hard, just enough to make Camillo understand that when Dad says no it really means no.  One day Camillo and his little sister were playing with his stuffed toys while Tony watched TV. “Bad, girl! Don’t do that!” Tony looked over just in time to see Camillo smack his little sister. Tony rushed over, “Hey, we don’t hit people!” He was so angry he wanted to spank Camillo. But then he thought about it for a minute. “Oh boy,” he thought. “How can I expect him to not hit his sister when I smack him sometimes?”

Your example won’t always be perfect. We are human after all.  But just remember, when it comes to building character in children, actions speak louder than words. The example you set — the character your children see or don’t see in you — will probably have more influence on their character development than anything you try to tell them or teach them.

For more thoughts on how fathers influence the character development of their children, check out Kids We Can Count On.

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